Tag Archives: The War of Art

Guilt

I didn’t practice. I procrastinated. I had family/friends visiting. I didn’t listen to the music I was learning. I’ll cancel/postpone my lesson. I feel bad already so I’m going to make myself feel worse by adding more guilt to the mix.

Sound familiar?

guilt ahead

It you take lessons regularly, you will know how hard it can be to:

  1. Make time for practice
  2. Practice at all – even at a time you’ve set aside to do this.

A lot of this complication is tied up in the fact that there are too many things needing our attention in one day. That is a whole other post, but regardless, guilt is a wasted emotion. Guilt is tied up in baggage. Baggage weighs you down and stops you from getting ahead. Steven Pressfield calls avoidance of particular task/creative act ‘resistance’. He wrote a fantastic book about it called The War of Art – it’s a quick read and all of it is true.

There are several paths away from the guilt of avoidance of a particular task or practice:

  1. Start small so that you don’t feel overwhelmed by this change in your weekly routine. I usually recommend to any beginner student to aim for 3x per week for about 15 minutes. This is easy enough to add to your routine. Add 5 minutes every week or two until you are practicing about 30-45 minutes depending on your age and skill level.
  2. Don’t ‘wait for inspiration’ to practice. Set a time and do it. You may surprise yourself and end up practicing longer!
  3. Reward yourself each week in some special way for having achieved your practice goals. This might include buying a new song from itunes or a piece of music, a specialty coffee or tea from your favorite place,  you get the idea.
  4. Keep a practice journal – I know, I know, this is IN ADDITION to practice. Make it 5 minutes of your practice time – jot down a few notes about what you sang and how you think things went, along with any questions you have for your teacher/mentor.
  5. Stop feeling guilty. Period. Life is life and you prioritize what you think and choose to do is important. If it’s important for you to  do ‘x’ instead of practicing, then you have made that decision and stick to it. Consequences might include you not being as prepared for your lesson as you wished, but guilt will not help anything or anyone.
  6. Related to #5. Be confident in your choices. If you choose to practice – shut the door, set a timer, and ask anyone else in the house not to disturb you.

Ultimately, it is up to YOU. Your choices shape your day-to-day decisions that have larger impacts over a longer period of time. Go forth, practice, and be happy in your choices!

Focus

When starting something new (like singing lessons!), your focus is usually fairly intense. Excitement about the possibilities of this new pursuit are in your thoughts, you feel happy to be exploring a new area of interest, and you are making the time to do the work necessary to get better and improve.

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After some time, you find your focus changes. You don’t learn things as quickly as you thought or hoped, you find yourself spending a little more time on other worthy tasks (resistance!) instead of continuing to improve in your new pursuit. Since this is a blog about singing, let’s call this new pursuit ‘singing lessons’, although any new task, skill, activity etc. can be inserted here.

When singing, focus can be used in a number of different ways. In a broader sense, you focus on your overall direction – perhaps there is a goal of an audition, recital, or competition. You look at your goals for a longer period of time and ask ‘Where do I want to be?’ or ‘What do I need to focus on to get there?’

However, you also need to focus within your vocal practice on specific techniques, sounds, listening, etc. This is where the daily practice comes in.

So how do you focus when practicing singing? When my attention is distracted from practicing singing by other worthy things like the internet, cleaning the kitchen, dusting, a good book, TV, etc.,  I find it really helpful to set a timer for my practice. I start with 30 minutes, then work up from there. When I set a timer, I know I have to focus for that specific amount of time, then I take a break. If you’re just beginning your singing practice, start with 15 minutes, take a 10 minute break, then try another 15 minutes.

Another way to focus is to sing at the same time every day. Put those times in your calendar or schedule, and stick to them. That time is untouchable.

Sometimes singing practice is taking a look at a larger view – using a broader focus, if you will, and mapping out what you need to do to get there. This might include specific benchmarks such as, “I will have this piece memorized by September 30th.” or “I need to decide what pieces I will sing for X by October 31.”, etc.

In a previous post I discussed Listening vs. Hearing. Listening requires more focus than hearing. Listen intently to a new piece of music, perhaps even a genre you’ve never explored before required attention and focus. Listen closely to different aspects of the composition – high tones, low tones, bass line, percussion, rhythm, lyrics, harmonic changes, etc. – there many possibilities! Your focus will change depending on what you are listening for.

When you learn to sing, there are many different things you have to focus on separately, in order to improve your overall vocal quality. Tone, breath control, rhythm, hearing and leading your line within the structure of the overall piece, harmony, direction of the phrase or line, text, poetic message, etc. This is why we need a singing teacher or a coach. You need another set of ears that aren’t focused on the production of all those qualities to help you find the best way there.

If you have been sitting on the fence about taking lessons, go and find yourself a teacher! Try out a few different teachers (finding the right teacher will be the subject of a future blog post). Starting is the easy part. Keeping your focus on a consistent basis will deliver results, progress, and the joy and satisfaction of focusing on a specific task!

Set your timer, focus on the task at hand, and have fun!

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